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Blade Runner

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4

*Also starring: Sean Young, Daryl Hannah, Edward James Olmos, Joanna Cassidy, Brion James, Joe Turkel, William Sanderson, M. Emmet Walsh

Review by Dragan Antulov
4 stars out of 4

Sometimes in the late 1980s "Sfera", club of science fiction aficionados from Zagreb, Croatia, asked its members to take a poll and name the ten best SF movies of all times. The results were printed in "Parsek", club's official fanzine with the accompanying article that commented each film's ranking. As many had expected, the top spot was held by BLADE RUNNER, 1982 cult classic by Ridley Scott. However, the author of the article didn't bother to give any broad explanation for its success. "BLADE RUNNER is simply movie to be seen and enjoyed", he wrote. The author of this review was faced with exactly the same problem any time he tried to give his reasons why he considered BLADE RUNNER one of the best pieces of seventh art ever made. For me, every time I watch the movie (and it happened quite a lot in the last fourteen years) it is almost like a religious experience, something that defies any rational discourse. Put that in perspective with the deluge of reviews, essays, books, studies and numerous references inspired by BLADE RUNNER in last decade and half, and you'll also see that is very hard to find anything original to say.

Anyway, many times I indeed tried to find the reason why I like BLADE RUNNER so much. The closest thing to answer was somewhat sentimental nature; when I saw movie for the first time, it actually turned out to be the end of a period in my movie watching habits. BLADE RUNNER was actually the last movie that I had liked so much that I bothered to go to cinema for the second time. Never again I was so blown away by cinematic quality to buy tickets for repeated viewing.

The movie wasn't just the end of an era for me personally, it was also the end of an era in history of contemporary science fiction cinema. It was based on the novel DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEPS? by Philip K. Dick, the science fiction writer who got enormous popularity with his works that depicted worlds of near future with the sharp contrast between superior technology and nightmarish state of humanity. Visions of the author (who died short before the movie premiere) were very in line with the dominating pessimistic trends of science fiction and futuristic films of the late 1970s and early 1980s, like ALIEN, OUTLAND or MAD MAX. Although probably the best of them, the movie flopped at the box-office and was abandoned by the critics, sealing the fate of mainstream science fiction cinema for next decade and turning it to mindless Spielbergian infantilism.

The plot begins in Los Angeles in November 2019, decaying megalopolis drowning in Malthusian nightmare, permanent smog and acid rain. The only refuge from the hopeless reality of dying planet lies in the off-world colonies, where artificial humans known as the replicants provide slave labour for the colonists. However, following the bloody off-world revolt, replicants are permanently banished from Earth and special police force, known as the Blade Runners, is authorised to exterminate them on sight. One of their former members is world-weary Rick Deckard (Harrison) who reluctantly agrees to return to his old police job for one more time. His target is a group of new, state-of-the-art and deadly Nexus 6 generation replicants, led by Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer). While he tracks the group, he stumbles onto Rachael (Sean Young), beautiful woman that doesn't know about her own replicant identity.

On the surface, the plot of the movie looks like material for cheap B-movie schlockfest. However, BLADE RUNNER actually wasn't intended to be something like that and its plot is probably the least memorable or important element of the big picture. The audience who initially expected conventional action thriller or futuristic horror was probably disappointed, but almost anyone remembered something else - characters, music, brilliant production designs, costumes; the atmosphere in general. Perfectionist care about even the most single details of futuristic world and originality of artists' ideas paid off in the end, and BLADE RUNNER is now considered to be one of the most recognisable movies of all times. The same thing can be said of musical score by Vangelis, whose melancholic tunes remain one of the composer's best works to date.

After the atmosphere, the characters are strongest point of BLADE RUNNER. Most of them have few screen time, but they are made unforgettable through superb acting. One of the biggest ironies of BLADE RUNNER is its lead role; Harrison Ford played Rick Deckard so differently from his usual all-American hero image. His Deckard is cynical, unsympathetic chandleresque anti-hero who actually has to wait to the final shots in order to redeems himself. To make things even more ironic, Ford privately doesn't appreciate his most unconventional and one of the best roles. Perhaps that was due to the fact that the show was stolen from him by excellent Rutger Hauer. His portrayal of Roy Batty is not only the most remembered performance in his entire career but also his own ad-lib intervention is responsible for the monologue that remains one of the best in the history of motion pictures.

The other actors were somewhat overshadowed by leading duo; yet, almost any of them gave a strong performance. For some of them, like Edward J. Olmos, M. Emmet Walsh, James Hong and Daryl Hannah is quite understandable why they became huge stars or dependable character actors later on. Some, like Sean Young, William Sanderson and Joe Turkell, weren't that lucky and that's a real shame. Same can be said also about director Ridley Scott, who slowly reduced his almost divine reputation by making stylishly perfect movies bellow the standards of BLADE RUNNER.

The strength of the movie isn't just in its popularity and the cult that steadily grows with each new generation of the moviegoers. It can also be seen in the influence it had on other media. BLADE RUNNER, at least initially, didn't influence other movies (which is understandable, because of its commercial failure), that was compensated in the area of science fiction literature. Because it was so stunningly refreshing, this movie is considered to be the main inspiration to the extremely popular sub-genre of cyberpunk, and later to the sub-culture of cyberpunk on Internet. BLADE RUNNER was also one of the very rare movies that dared to predict future and to become more accurate in its predictions as the years went by.

Some movies aren't just good because of their own quality. They are also good because of the viewers feedback, especially when they inspire them to ask questions and get often very different answers. In the case of BLADE RUNNER, the followers of cult had a great schism due to the great replicant controversy - issue that was adressed in a 1992 released Director's Cut. Another endless debate is between those fans who like the voice-overs in original 1982 version as a tribute to the great film noires of 1940s, and those who consider them as unnecessary dumbing-down. Anyway, although some argue that those controversies can prove the lack of perfection in BLADE RUNNER, the author of this review thinks that they can be just another reason for people to enjoy this movie.

Copyright 1998 Dragan Antulov

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